By Gargi Sharma

There is a common belief in the philanthropic sector that doing something is better than doing nothing. But what happens when some funders’ efforts to do good end up doing more harm, undercutting effective climate action? Our latest infographic explores these false promises.

Increasing attention is being paid to the climate emergency in the philanthropic sector. And it can be tempting to look for a silver bullet. However, funding a siloed strategy runs the risk of ignoring the drivers of climate change (e.g., growth at all costs or structural racism) or, even worse, undermining climate action that is cooling the planet and advancing equity. For example, where communities take care of their traditional lands, we need to stop “green-grabbing” or ”ocean-grabbing” to make way for carbon offset projects.

As funders, we can disrupt inequities by moving resources and decision making towards frontline communities, who are experiencing the climate crisis – and the fallout from this pandemic – worst. As those best positioned to advance bold and ambitious solutions, it is our role as funders to listen. And what we hear from grassroots groups is a demand to end support for the false promises that undermine their work.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the inequities of our global extractive economy are laid bare. As the links between this public health crisis and capitalism are uncovered, funders can invest in solutions that work beyond traditional siloes. We cannot solve the crisis using the same tools that created it. 

For example, Movimento Camponês Popular (MCP)/Popular Peasant Movement works to advance food sovereignty in Brazil. Hundreds of peasant families are involved in MCP’s Creole Seeds program, where the seeds are stored by “seed guardians” and are available for all the peasants in the region. Instead of investing in ex-situ seed banks (that involve seed conservation outside their place of origin and take away peasants’ autonomy), GMOs, and “climate-smart agriculture,” funders can support those that have been nurturing soil and sustaining biodiversity while feeding the planet for centuries

Protesters holding sign that reads: "Agribusiness disrupts the climate. Peasant agriculture protects the earth."
Agribusiness corporations promote harmful agricultural practices, ignoring the traditional ways of farming, at the expense of the local environment. Such projects fail to address the root causes of the climate crisis while also undermining food sovereignty. To learn more about agroecology as a climate solution, read the Soil to Sky report.

Top-down, market-based strategies maintain the extractive economic system, perpetuate the exploitation of frontline communities, and distract from meaningful action to address the climate crisis. Projects such as industrial “green revolution” and airline carbon offsets often lack community ownership and accountability, and do not cut emissions at source. Instead may end up harming frontline communities. Many western agribusiness conglomerates in West Africa, for example, support agricultural practices that ignore traditional ways of farming and their use of unregulated chemicals harms the soil, plants, and water.

As a primer, consider these four issues (crafted by It Takes Roots) before deciding to move money towards a proposed climate project: 

  1. Do the people most impacted by resource and labor extraction benefit?
  2. The people closest to and most affected by the problems will know best what the solutions should look like. Do they make the decisions?
  3. Effective climate action requires political action that holds those in power to account. Does this strategy challenge the status quo and address power imbalances? 
  4. Long-lasting change sticks when we work across silos such as alternative energy, women’s rights, or food security. Does this climate solution address the various issues communities face?

Funders have an unprecedented opportunity at this moment. We can refuse to go back to the old normal, and instead resource the tremendous grassroots action already restoring healthcare systems, resisting environmental policy rollbacks, and protecting Earth’s remaining forests. Philanthropy can fund solutions that address economic, social, and climate justice issues together.

Philanthropy cannot afford to only do what it has always done. A different promise can be made. One which addresses the underlying drivers of the climate crisis, builds power, and elevates collective leadership.

Take action and support grassroots climate solutions

Learn more about what it means to join our community